Amesbury, a historic building in Ashfield, NSW



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'Amesbury' - Landmark c1888 Queen Anne Mansion on 1369 sqm Level Grounds


Amesbury,  Ashfield
Amesbury, Ashfield

Ten-bedroom mansion with four-storey tower to fetch astronomic price

  • BRENDAN WONG REAL ESTATE REPORTER
  • INNER WEST COURIER INNER WEST
  • AUGUST 15, 2014 1:00PM

One of Sydney’s grandest and most distinctive properties has hit the market for the first time in three decades.
Amesbury is a grand 10-bedroom Queen Anne-style mansion on a 1366sq m block in Ashfield and is primarily recognisable by its four-storey Romanesque belfry-style tower.
  • While it appears to bear all the hallmarks of a church, it was designed and constructed in 1888 as a house by renowned Australian engineer, Norman Selfe to celebrate the country’s Centenary.

Ashfield's most significant historic home. 'Amesbury' is a grand 10-bedroom Queen Anne style mansion built in 1888 by Mr Norman Selfe (1839-1922), Australia's foremost engineer during the late 19th and 20th centuries.
  • Last traded 30 years ago, the landmark residence was designed and constructed by Selfe during an era when engineers were regarded far more highly than architects. Upon completion, 'Amesbury' was considered the ultimate modern showpiece; it was feted in 'Builder and Contractors News" as presenting "more novelties both externally and internally than any other house in the colony".
  • With an elite pedigree of timeless distinction and historic significance, 'Amesbury' is a magnificent example of a wealthy Victorian gentleman's family residence.
  • Distinguished by a four-storey Romanesque tower with north-easterly views to the harbour, 'Amesbury' retains a host of beautiful internal and external features, including white Canterbury stone window surrounds and a pair of terracotta lyrebird panels modelled by decorative artist, Lucien Henry.
The distinctive four-storey Romanesque tower was tailor-made for Norman Selfe’s hobby of astronomy, complete with terracotta lyrebird reliefs by artist Lucien Henry on the front wall.
The distinctive four-storey Romanesque tower was tailor-made for Norman Selfe’s hobby of astronomy, complete with terracotta lyrebird reliefs by artist Lucien Henry on the front wall.
Built around 1888 to honour the centenary of the colony, Amesbury still stands at 78 Alt Street, Ashfield. 'Amesbury' retains a host of beautiful internal and external features, including white Canterbury stone window surrounds.
Built around 1888 to honour the centenary of the colony, Amesbury still stands at 78 Alt Street, Ashfield. 'Amesbury' retains a host of beautiful internal and external features, including white Canterbury stone window surrounds.

The dining room has mahogany beamed ceilings and oversizes panel doors.
The dining room has mahogany beamed ceilings and oversizes panel doors.
  • It does have a spiritual connection though, having been owned by international peace and meditation organisation Brahma Kumaris Raja Yoga since 1986.
Upon its completion, Amesbury was considered the ultimate modern showpiece.
  • The Australasian Builder and Contractors’ news even described it as having “more novelties both externally and internally than any other house in the colony”.
  • Selfe’s international travels during 1884 and 1885 inspired much of the design of the home. For the exteriors, he discarded cast iron lacework in favour of distinctive timber balustrades and carved fretwork.
  • An imposing entrance hall with a beautiful staircase (crafted from exotic timbers including American hickory and English oak) featuries hand made stained glass windows.
Dividing the living and dining rooms is an extraordinary three-metre wide vertically sliding door panelled in New Guinea cedar and blackwood.
Dividing the living and dining rooms is an extraordinary three-metre wide vertically sliding door panelled in New Guinea cedar and blackwood.

Dividing the living and dining rooms is an extraordinary three-metre wide vertically sliding door panelled in New Guinea cedar and blackwood. Also in excellent condition in these rooms are oversized panel doors and wide architraves of oak and rosewood.

The kitchen features modern appliances, stone benches and built-in storage.
The kitchen features modern appliances, stone benches and built-in storage.
The tower was purpose-built for Selfe to pursue his hobby of astronomy and boasts north-easterly views to the harbour.

In 1885 Selfe bought land in Ashfield and designed a grand house called Amesbury. Built around 1888 to honour the centenary of the colony, Amesbury still stands at 78 Alt Street, complete with terracotta lyrebird reliefs by artist Lucien Henry on the front wall, and a tower purpose-built for Selfe to pursue his hobby of astronomy. [18]

As children, Rhoda and Norma attended their Aunt Maybanke's school in Dulwich Hill. [19] As adults, they trained in Italy with educator Maria Montessori, returning to Sydney to open a Montessori school of their own atAshfield, called Warwick.

1894 the family moved once again, this time to Hornsby shire, where a new Selfe-designed house, Gilligaloola, was built on 11 acres (4.5 hectares) purchased by Selfe 10 years earlier. Gilligaloola, at 82 Pennant Hills Road, is still a local landmark, with its distinctive tower and twin chimneys. [20]
Gilligaloola, Normanhurst
Gilligaloola, Normanhurst

Normanhurst's Finest Mansion 'Gilligaloola? Circa 1893

Gillingaloola - meaning a pleasant place brings the yester years and the contemporary together in what is Normanhurst's finest federation mansion. The contemporary kitchen with granite bench tops built for the entertainer flows onto an informal dining and living area. Wait, the best is yet to come - this dinning and living area opens up to the king size deck overlooking the koi pond and the swimming pool amidst the magnificently landscaped gardens with the sound of water fountains in the background. This meticulously renovated mansion throughout boasts of stately formal lounges and dining rooms, 5 to 6 huge bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, study and a library. City views are enjoyed at night from the tower room and crows nest lookout. The close proximity to the station, shops and schools is an added draw card. Truly your opportunity to own a part of history.

As President of the Board of Technical Education, Norman Selfe fought passionately for the establishment of an independent system of technical education, to serve the needs of a rapidly industrialising society. Selfe's strenuous efforts in a number of causes went unrewarded during his life, but formed the basis of innovations later realised.

Norman was a committed citizen, and a natural spokesman for the local community, to the extent that when the railways needed a name for the locality, the community chose 'Normanhurst' (though Norman himself felt that 'St Normans' would have been 'much more elegant and suggestive'!).

Selfe, Norman

Norman Selfe, civil engineer c1900
Norman Selfe, civil engineer c1900
by Catherine Freyne, 2009
supported by Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts

Selfe was an engineer, naval architect, inventor, urban visionary and controversial advocate of technical education. Today, he is best remembered in the name of the suburb of Normanhurst, where his grand house Gilligaloola still stands. But decades before the existing Harbour Bridge was built, Sydney came close to building a Selfe-designed steel cantilever bridge across the harbour with its northern foot in McMahons Point.

When he wasn't designing bridges, docks, boats, precision machinery and new transport schemes for Sydney, Selfe was energetically involved in organisations ranging from the Royal Society of New South Wales to the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts; the Australian Historical Society to the Central Federation League.

From Dictionary of Sydney



In 1912, the property was bought by Melbourne draper John Hindle who added tennis courts and Japanese gardens until part of the land was subdivided into eight flats during the 1920s.
  • Today the property still retains its heritage internal and external features including white Canterbury stone window surrounds and a pair of terracotta lyrebird panels modelled by decorative artist, Lucien Henry.

 A rear extension, with a separate entrance, has two more bedrooms, a sitting room and bathroom. The house has been owned by a meditation organisation since 1986.
A rear extension, with a separate entrance, has two more bedrooms, a sitting room and bathroom. The house has been owned by a meditation organisation since 1986.


The grounds have landscaped gardens.
The grounds have landscaped gardens.


Inside, there is a grand formal sitting, living and dining room opening from an imposing entrance hall with a timber staircase and stained glass windows.
  • On the ground floor are three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an office, storeroom, kitchen and casual dining areas. A rear extension, with a separate entrance, has two more bedrooms, a sitting room and bathroom.
The iconic property is part of Ashfield’s heritage walks.
The iconic property is part of Ashfield’s heritage walks.
The Japanese gardens were part of the original design.
The Japanese gardens were part of the original design.

Amesbury retains its character features including high ceilings, cornices and fireplaces.
Amesbury retains its character features including high ceilings, cornices and fireplaces.

  • At the top of the staircase, on the first floor, are five bedrooms, three bathrooms and a storeroom. Another staircase leads to the second floor that has a large entertaining room (formerly a billiard room) and two storerooms, one with steep stairs leading up to the observation tower.
  • There is also a basement or worship room with extensive storage space.
  • Other features of the home include landscaped gardens, separate studio or office, a single garage and off-street parking for seven cars in the front driveway off Alt St.

78 ALT ST, ASHFIELD

INSPECT: Strictly by appointment
FOR SALE: Expressions of interest
CLOSE: Thursday, September 25 2014, 4pm
PRICE GUIDE: More than $3.5 million
AGENT: Jennifer Aaron Real Estate agent Jennifer Aaron on 0418 440 653


References

  1. 78 Alt Street Ashfield at Domain.com.au
  2. Ten-bedroom mansion at Perthnow.com.au
  3. Selfe, Norman article at http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/selfe_norman
  4. Ashfield self-guided Heritage Walk no 3.